Cinema Retro's Bill Duelly recently visited the sites of legendary British movie studios. His report is a sobering reminder of how unchecked development is endangering cultural heritage.
Suburban sprawl: rising real estate prices; loss of historic sites. It’s not just a phenomenon in the United States. It is the world over. One place where this is taking a toll on our cinematic history is n the town of Elstree and Borehamwood, England. And it’s happening to the places the Cinema Retro fans hold dear as some of their favorite films have come out of this small, friendly and very talented area: 2001; The Dirty Dozen; The Shining; The Star Wars Trilogy (the real one); Indiana Jones Trilogy, etc.
A few months ago, I had the pleasure of a tour of the area by Bob Redman and Ben Simon of Elstree Screen Heritage, a group made up of volunteers committed to their unique local film and television heritage. With them, I saw first hand how the landscape of an area rich in England’s film history is rapidly changing (to clarify from the start, Elstree Screen Heritage is concerned with aspects of ALL the studios that have called this area their home, not just Elstree Film Studios).
We didn’t need to go any farther than when we stepped off the train, to see that the site across from the station was under construction for new apartments. This was the original site of Gate Studios, opened in 1928 for production of silent films. Being so close to the trains, sound became a problem shortly thereafter. Their solution? To put someone on the roof and signal when a train was coming so the noise wouldn’t ruin a take. Now, no trace of the studio remains.
Artist and designer Saul Bass was one of the most influential forces (along with Maurice Binder) in the field of designing main titles for movies. Prior to Bass, most main titles were pedantic and unimaginative. Bass, however, brought an element of modern art into his work. The images were often minimalist but always powerful. Bass also designed many classic film posters including such films as Anatomy of a Murder,West Side Story, Exodus and In Harm's Way. The poster for the latter was particularly off-beat considering it was a big budget war movie top-lining John Wayne and Kirk Douglas. However, instead of taking the obvious road and showing depictions of these two great stars, Bass opted to use a simply white outline of an admiral's sleeve pointing ominously in an easterly direction.
Similarly, Bass minimalist design of a dead body for Anatomy of a Murder was so compelling that Spike Lee "borrowed" virtually the exact same design for his film Clockers. When the media noticed the similarity, Lee called it a tribute to Bass while Bass himself said it was a rip-off of his work. Among Bass' greatest triumphs was the extended main title sequence for It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. The brilliantly designed cartoon went on long enough to qualify as a short film and remains one of the most memorable aspects of the 1963 hit. The web site Not Coming to a Theater Near You presents a superb collection of in-depth essays and illustrations pertaining to all of the movies Bass designed the titles for. To read click here